Beyond cultural clientele

Most public administrations -especially local ones- are currently facing serious financial difficulties. As a result, cultural venues are desperately trying to find the way of balancing their accounts while keeping up their mission’s essence and the provision of their services. Under these circumstances, glances are logically focusing on the public, since consumers’ individual monetary contributions provide the resources needed to conduct any activity or event. The public, indeed, not only provides an important part of the projects funding, but it also legitimates with its presence the rest of the available public resources and sponsorships. Let’s not forget that they are the intended audience and the raison d'être of cultural supply.

However, focusing on audiences, though essential and a must-remember in times of plenty, can involve a danger: focusing too much on pleasing the same old clientele, such as season-ticket holders, connoisseurs and clients who like to see and listen to the same kind of product. From a financial/marketing management perspective, this is a logical and fair option, but from a wider point of view, taking into account the whole society and their collective progress would be a better choice.

We are living in a complex and individualistic society that is getting more heterogeneous everyday. In a social moment in which everyone minds their business -generating what Jean-Michael Lucas has called “cold cultural tolerance”- cultural expressions can become a meeting point. We all exercise our well-earned use of freedom to express ourselves, exchange our ideas and consume those areas of cultural reality that appeal to us. We are living in a context where, aside from big media events, the specialization of culture consumption is huge and allows us to have a wide variety of alternatives. However, lack of communication leads to ignorance and ignorance to contempt or even hatred towards other people’s cultural expressions, especially when dogmatic single-views aim to impose on other community views. We should recall the words of Antonio Machado when stating that Castilla despises what it ignores. There is, therefore, a lack of collective projects that are participative and open. Projects that are easy to join without having to give up own values and expressions, where interacting with tradition and innovation facilitates a process of collective growth.

Nowadays, arguments to justify public cultural actions are those related to being “a capital of culture”, “a great centre for creative economy”, “a magnet of quality cultural tourism”, or “a celebration of multiculturalism”. All these targets are inherently good, but I think they only show a partial view that is rather parochial and does not deal with the main challenge of culture: allowing coexistence of creative freedom, expressive freedom and consumption freedom. The responsibility of public bodies and their specialised institutions –museums, libraries, theatres or exhibition halls- should consist on enabling spaces for interaction between those groups that aim to widen their respective cultural capital. The economic crisis should make us more aware of this challenge, instead of narrowing our view and focusing our attention exclusively on the audience. We need to overcome the nuisance of taking risks and give a meaning to the public cultural actions resposibility.

(Translated by Ana Muñoz de la Torre)

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